Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) Inventor, Physicist, Electrical Engineer
"Nature and Natures Law's lay hid in night: God said, Let Tesla be, and all was light."
(1916) B.A. Behrend, Famous Engineer
paraphrasing Newton on bestowing
the Edison Medal to Tesla.
With over 278 patents to his name, we all can thank Tesla for a myriad of innovations that the industrialized world uses daily. Tesla's discovery of induction lighting in the late 1800’s remains one of his most significant, as it was these principles of electromagnetic energy that spawned so many of his other creative develpments and remains to this day the essential operating principle behind all electrodeless induction lighting technologies.
Nikola Tesla; A Creative Force
Born in Croatia to Serbian parents, Nikola Tesla even as a young boy displayed an exceedingly intelligent, creative and highly intuitive mind. Blessed with a prodigious memory Tesla was able to visualize and retain images and formulas that assisted him solving problems and equations that often times his instructors had not yet even finished writing on the board.
This type of ‘autoanalysis’ became almost reflexive and as he matured it gave him the unusual capability of completely assembling the ‘pictures in his mind’ to the machines that nearly always worked as he had intended through his ‘visualizations’. Unfortunately this talent represented a lifelong difficulty Telsa had when working with other engineers who demanded written specifications, drawings and blueprints to conceptualize Tesla’s theories.
With his remarkable photographic memory Tesla was able to speak six languages fluently and perform calculus equations mentally. While this talent usually wanes with age Tesla was able to maintain this skill throughout most of his life.
Nikola Tesla died in his sleep, alone in a small hotel room on January 7, 1943. He had managed throughout his life to reap little financial reward for all of his inventive pursuits. Instead the financial benefits of his work were generously lavished upon those who took his findings and blended them into commercial success.
Induction Lighting: The History and the Economics
Inda-Gro lighting products would not exist had it not been for Tesla's invention of induction lighting but what represents an even larger contribution to all of our lifes is the fact that Tesla's vision of an AC electrical distribution system was adopted over Edisons proposed DC electrical distribution system. This was no small feat since at the time Tesla was introducing his concept and the advantages of AC electrical power over DC, Thomas Edison, with all his wealth and resources was determined to see the worlds entire electrical distribution system be developed as a DC system.
The Industrial Revolution could not have occured without a new infrastructure of railway systems and an electrical power distribution network that would provide service to the wide variety of industries that would fuel our nations expansion. Much of the financing for the new rail lines was being done by J.P. Morgan.
In addition to expansion of the nations rail systems, Morgan also envisioned development of a local and national electrical infrastructure as a way to profit from this growth. Morgan did not particularly care if the electrical system to be developed was an AC or DC sytem. Morgan wanted control of whichever system proved a profitable, stable and better designed. To that end Tesla and his AC system won out. Morgan began development of a national electrical distribution system that took advantage of the routes his rail systems were being laid.
Edison had developed and patented the first commercially viable carbon filament incandescent light bulb in 1880 that he envisioned would operate on his DC distribution system, but as fate would have it and to Edisons chagrin, could also run on the developing AC system as well. With the Edison lamp having an operational lifespan of 1,200 hours, lamping and relamping of the Edison bulbs represented a steady stream of profit as the need for lighting our newly electrified world grew at a blistering pace.
Tesla's approach to lighting relied on electrodeless electromagnetic induction lighting which by virtue of there being no electrodes or filaments within the bulb did not suffer from the high temperatures and carbon build up within the lamp so Tesla lamps, which depended on the AC distribution system could last, for tens of thousands of hours compared to Edison’s.
It was J.P. Morgan who provided much of the financing for both Edison's and Tesla's projects. When Morgan aligned behind the development of the Tesla AC electrical distribution system, Edison was understandably not happy with that decision. Then again Edison was somewhat mollified when Morgan made the decision to provide his complete financial backing to the success of the Edison incandescent lamp over Tesla's induction lamp. The stage being set, the Industrial Revolution was now free to begin.
Tesla's Patents, relative to Induction Lighting Design
Patent #454,622 System of Electric Lighting
Patent #568,178 Method of Regulating Apparatus For Producing Currents of High Frequency
Patent #335,786 Electric Arc Amp
Colorado Springs Research Labratory: 1899-1900
By the end of the 1890s, Tesla had come to the conclusion that it might be possible to transmit electrical power without wires at high altitudes. There the air was thinner, and therefore more conductive.
A friend and patent lawyer, Leonard E. Curtis, on being advised of Tesla's work, offered to find land and provide power for the research from the El Paso Power Company of Colorado Springs. The next supporter to come forward was Colonel John Jacob Astor. With $30,000 from Astor, the inventor prepared at once to move to Colorado and begin building a new experimental station near Pikes Peak. Joining Tesla were several assistants who were not fully informed of the inventor's plans.
Arriving at Colorado Springs in May 1899, Tesla went to inspect the acreage. It was some miles out in the prairie. He told reporters that he intended to send a radio signal from Pikes Peak to Paris, but furnished no details.
In the midst of Colorado's own incredible electrical displays, Tesla would sit taking measurements. He soon found the earth to be "literally alive with electrical vibrations." Tesla came to think that when lightning struck the ground it set up powerful waves that moved from one side of the earth to the other. If the earth was indeed a great conductor, Tesla hypothesized that he could transmit unlimited amounts of power to any place on earth with virtually no loss. But to test this theory, he would have to become the first man to create electrical effects on the scale of lightning.
The laboratory that rose from the prairie floor was both wired and weird, a contraption with a roof that rolled back to prevent it from catching fire, and a wooden tower that soared up eighty feet. Above it was a 142-foot metal mast supporting a large copper ball. Inside the strange wooden structure, technicians began to assemble an enormous Tesla coil, specially designed to send powerful electrical impulses into the earth.
On the evening of the experiment, each piece of equipment was first carefully checked. Then Tesla alerted his mechanic, Czito, to open the switch for only one second. The secondary coil began to sparkle and crack and an eerie blue corona formed in the air around it. Satisfied with the result, Tesla ordered Czito to close the switch until told to cease. Huge arcs of blue electricity snaked up and down the center coil. Bolts of man-made lightning more than a hundred feet in length shot out from the mast atop the station. Tesla's experiment burned out the dynamo at the El Paso Electric Company and the entire city lost power. The power station manager was livid, and insisted that Tesla pay for and repair the damage.
For nine months Tesla conducted experiments at Colorado Springs. Though he kept a day-to-day diary that was rich in detail, the results of his experiments are not clear. One question has never been definitively answered: Did Tesla actually transmit wireless power at Pikes Peak?
There are some reports that he did transmit a signal several miles powerful enough to illuminate vacuum tubes planted in the ground. But this can be attributed to conductive properties in the ground at Colorado Springs.
Another approach pursued by Tesla was to transmit extra-low-frequency signals through the space between the surface of the earth and the ionosphere. Tesla calculated that the resonant frequency of this area was approximately 8-hertz. It was not until the 1950s that this idea was taken seriously and researchers were surprised to discover that the resonant frequency of this space was indeed in the range of 8-hertz.
A great deal of mystery still surrounds Tesla's work at Colorado Springs. It is not clear from his notes or his comments exactly how he intended to transmit wireless power. But it is clear that he returned back to New York City fully convinced that he could accomplish it.
The Wardenclyffe Project: 1901-1917
When Tesla returned to New York from Colorado Springs, he wrote a sensational article for Century Magazine. In this detailed, futuristic vision he described a means of tapping the sun's energy with an antenna. He suggested that it would be possible to control the weather with electrical energy. He predicted machines that would make war an impossibility. And he proposed a global system of wireless communications. To most people the ideas were almost incomprehensible, but Tesla was a man who could not be underestimated.
The article caught the attention of one of the world's most powerful men, J. P. Morgan. A frequent guest in Morgan's home, Tesla proposed a scheme that must have sounded like science fiction: a "world system" of wireless communications to relay telephone messages across the ocean; to broadcast news, music, stock market reports, private messages, secure military communications, and even pictures to any part of the world. "When wireless is fully applied the earth will be converted into a huge brain, capable of response in every one of its parts," Tesla told Morgan.
Morgan offered Tesla $150,000 to build a transmission tower and power plant. A more realistic sum would have been $1,000,000, but Tesla took what was available and went to work immediately. In spite of what he told his investor, Tesla's actual plan was to make a large-scale demonstration of electrical power transmission without wires. This turned out to be a fatal mistake.
For his new construction project, Tesla acquired land on the cliffs of Long Island Sound. The site was called Wardenclyffe. By 1901 the Wardenclyffe project was under construction, the most challenging task being the erection of an enormous tower, rising 187 feet in the air and supporting on its top a fifty-five-ton sphere made of steel. Beneath the tower, a well-like shaft plunged 120 feet into the ground. Sixteen iron pipes were driven three hundred feet deeper so that currents could pass through them and seize hold of the earth. "In this system that I have invented," Tesla explained, "it is necessary for the machine to get a grip of the earth, otherwise it cannot shake the earth. It has to have a grip... so that the whole of this globe can quiver."
As the tower construction slowly increased, it became evident that more funds were sorely needed. But Morgan was not quick to respond. Then on December 12, 1901, the world awoke to the news that Marconi had signaled the letter "S" across the Atlantic from Cornwall, England to Newfoundland. Tesla, unruffled by the accomplishment, explained that the Italian used 17 Tesla patents to accomplish the transmission. But Morgan began to doubt Tesla. Marconi's system not only worked, it was also inexpensive.
Tesla pleaded with Morgan for more financial support, but the investor soundly refused. To make matters worse, the stock market crashed and prices for the tower's materials doubled. High prices combined with Tesla's inability to find enough willing investors eventually led to the demise of the project.
In 1903 his dream began crumbling as creditors from Westinghouse confiscated his equipment for nonpayment for services rendered and he was sued for non-payment of back taxes. And finally, in 1905, after some amazing discoveries and electrical displays. Tesla and his shrinking team forced to abandon the project forever. The newspapers, fueled by competitor propaganda labeled the project “Tesla’s Million Dollar Folly”.
Humiliated and defeated, Tesla experienced a complete nervous breakdown. "It is not a dream," he protested. "It is a simple feat of scientific electrical engineering, only expensive... blind, faint-hearted, doubting world."